Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay, generated by far the most conversation of any book we have read so far. As opposed to previous contested books we have had in book club, Tigana had less of a spectrum of different opinions, and more of a splitting into two camps: people who loved it and people who hated it. On a scale of 1-10, half of the group had scores of nine or above and the other half of the group had scores below 5. The final resulting average for the group was a solid seven, however it was the first instance where no one seemed happy with the score as all felt it should be higher or lower. I will attempt to dissect the various sides of the argument below, but before I begin I’ll add a small disclaimer: myself and all three editors for this blog all fell into the 9+ camp and are likely biased as we break down the discussion.
Tigana is a historical fantasy that takes place in a setting similar to medieval Italy, and follows the story of a country called The Palm. The Palm has been invaded and split by two great sorcerers from different empires, with all the land being occupied by one or another, barring a single province remaining contested between the two. However, the majority of the plot revolves around one of the already conquered provinces, Tigana, and we follow the point of views of a variety of Tigana citizens as they attempt to free their province from one (or both) of the sorcerers. The book reminded many of a Shakespearean tragedy that focuses on the question, “what is the price of culture”? The characters of the story are varied in background and personality, and we are treated to a diverse set of opinions on the value of life and culture. The execution of these ideas is where the group heavily disagreed.
Team Pro-Tigana: Those of us who loved Tigana found the book to be a work of art. Guy Gavriel Kay was on my masters of prose list for a reason, and the writing in Tigana was flowing, poetic, and emotionally impactful on a number of levels. The characters were extremely deep and represented a large number of perspectives for the reader to easily identify with and life through the various sides of the conflict. The various agents in the book felt like real people who we knew, or represented ourselves. The book has a cleverness that we loved, and uses every set of characters in a pair as foils for one another. The characters helped pull us into the book, and multiple people found themselves thinking about their own life and decisions as they read it. The story also just broke our heart over, and over. It is not a book for those looking for something happy and uplifting, and some of the characters in Tigana are among the most tragic we have ever read. Tigana is a magical piece of literature that transported us into its world, evoked deep thought and consideration on difficult topics, and created strong personal connections between the reader and the characters. We collectively cried enough to fill a bucket and highly recommend Tigana.
Team Anti-Tigana: Those of us who hated Tigana frustrate me deeply, but had the following complaints. Many considered the book to be first and foremost incredibly boring. Multiple people claimed they felt absolutely no connection with any of the characters, and found them unpleasant to follow through the story. Without the connection to the characters, the “con” group found the plot slow and incredibly dull. Some found the pacing jarring as the perspective often jumps from point-of-view to point-of-view to tell the story. It was said that this broke all momentum in the story and it felt like any building excitement was lost. A few of the “con” group also claimed that they found the writing pretentious and that they preferred more austere prose. While most finished the book, and understood conceptually why many of us liked it, the “con” group vehemently does not recommend Tigana.
Despite creating such a large disagreement, Tigana was for me an incredible study on how readers can read the same book and have such a vastly different experience. Where one sees a character that they can pour themselves into and sympathize with going through a tragic and moving trial, another sees a grating and unrelatable cut out who slogs through a boring story. Regardless of how much people enjoyed the book, I highly recommend Tigana as a book club book as it generated some of the best conversation we ever had.
Rating: Andrew – 9.5/10
Bookclub – 7.0/10